Five Things / Five Years

Well, dear readers, I’ve reached yet another New York City milestone. Yes, it is again time to pack up all my things and move them into yet another apartment, my third in this city. I loathe moving — or at least, I loathe the way it happens here in Brooklyn. Maybe outside our supposedly cosmopolitan conclave, moving is a more straightforward affair; I can’t really speak on the fact as I’ve never looked for an apartment anywhere other than New York. I assume there are places where, if you know you’re going to move, you can start looking for a new place a month to two months before the actual move date. But in New York, finding an apartment is a whirlwind process that requires large amounts of cash on hand and the ability to commit to a place after having seen it for only ten odd minutes (which if you’re me and my friends is long enough to set off the emergency exit alarm and bolt from the premises…hopefully our new neighbors won’t hate us).

On this most recent apartment hunt, we looked at our apartment, applied for it, and handed over an absurd number of twenties in a blank envelope in a period of about 45 minutes. It’s all very trying (as Zelda knows) and you don’t have time to think twice, even if you’re tossing and turning for the next 48 hours trying to figure out if you made the right decision. At this point, the correctness of the decision doesn’t matter: We have the apartment. It’s a nice apartment, it’s in the neighborhood I wanted, and my commute to work will be significantly shorter. But now….we have to move. And as anxiety-ridden as the apartment hunt may be, nothing intimidates me more than the actual move.

We’ve lived in our current apartment four years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere other than my childhood home. The sheer volume of things that can be accumulated in this period of time is amazing. One of the things that always bothers me about those pretty pictures of “small” apartments online is those people’s lack of things. I’m by no means a hoarder, but I’m also not a minimalist. And if you’ve been with us long enough, you know how much I love rearranging my stuff as a de-stressing mechanism. But this takes those little moves to a whole new level.

My new apartment will require a bit of down sizing on my part — mostly because we are going from four roommates to two, and that means less space — but getting my head around fitting things into less space is a little harder. So there’s been a lot of “cleaning out” and Marie Kondo-style purging of things that I don’t need. But I don’t think I can, or should, go totally minimalist. There are a lot of useless things I own that bring me great joy. I’ve been in New York for early five years now, so in the spirit of Zelda’s somewhat adjacent example from her own move, here are five things I’ve found while packing, for each of my five years in this city.

My Master’s Thesis, Supporting Documents, and Gavel: I moved to New York to pursue an M.A. in Arts Business, to learn about the art market and maybe work at an auction house one day. That first year in the city was full immersion into grad school (and into realizing that maybe the for-profit art world wasn’t for me, but I never would have known that if I hadn’t gone to grad school). And if I hadn’t gone to grad school, I never would have written a thesis on Art History Education and New Media, and I never would have ended up where I am now, in a job I love and that I’m good at. I’d also never have received a gavel. They don’t give them to you when you finish non-auction-related masters programs.

A Ridiculous Collection of Playbills: One of the things that’s kept me in New York so long is the access to live theater. Nowhere else in the world can I get off the train, stop at a box office, and see a Tony Award-winning show (and many many non-Tony award-winning shows). The theater is expensive, yes, but with handy sites like Broadway for Broke People, apps like TodayTix, visits from the Momma, and having friends who occasionally get comps because they work in this business we call show, I’ve managed to see many shows in the past five year, and I’ve always kept the playbills. I started doing it after I came to New York for the second time at 16. A friend of mine’s older sister had all of hers pinned up in her room like a wall of theater fan merit badges, and I wanted that too. Now I don’t have room to pin them up, but I continue to collect them.

Beer Flash Cards: I spent two years post-grad school working part-time at the Museum and working the rest of the time at craft beer bars. These are a relic of that age, when I was being quizzed on styles and asked to recommend pairings. I love beer, and I met a good number of my New York friends through the industry. I sometimes miss the days when my Fridays consisted of lunch shifts when distribution reps came in and everyone on staff got to have a little flight. I’m not planning on making my way back into the beer industry anytime soon…but I can’t bring myself to get rid of these cards just yet. I guess I like knowing that I could call on these if I did.

A Brides/Groomsmaid Dress and a Handmade Paper Bouquet: Last year, I got to be in two weddings, both of them for friends I’ve made since I moved to New York (and both with brides so chill I got to wear the same dress twice). Until I went to college, I had attended the same school for 13 years, with most of the same people. Then I went to college and was with the same friends in the same very small space for four years. I never thought I could be as close if not closer to friends I made after I moved here. Surely these things take time and incubation. But as hard as making friends as an adult is, I’m so grateful to have found people who have let me into their life in a relatively short time, and who care for me enough to ask me to stand with them on one of the most important days of their lives. And I also got this awesome bouquet made of comic book pages: bonus perk.

Some Relatively Underused Business Cards and a Cross Stitch: One of the greatest things my time in New York has given me is this blog. As hard as it is sometimes, at the end of the day I like that it forces me to regularly put fingers to keys or pen to paper. And it’s a great excuse to collaborate with my best friend. It’s been almost five years since I moved here, four since Zelda did, and three since we embarked on this written journey together. With all the ups and downs, I’m grateful for it. Maybe we’ll never be internet media lifestyle luminaries, and maybe these business cards will stay packed away in their boxes, but we’ve grown and changed and learned, and I think that’s all we really set out to do in the long run.

Thanks for sticking with me. To the next five years.  

Rooftop Party Essentials

Our calendars have been officially flipped to June for 6 days now, and so even though the weather has been decidedly gloomy and unseasonably cool, we have officially declared it summer in our hearts. Summer in New York means a lot of things: sweaty subway seats, hot garbage smell, throngs of tourists in matching t-shirts. But it also signifies one of our favorite times of year: rooftop season.

Since quitting Bushwick for Crown Heights nearly two years ago, I have found myself blessed with a beautiful rooftop. It’s not the fanciest pad in the world, but it’s big and it’s quiet and it has a view of the skyline from the Battery to Central Park. When the weather gets nice enough, it becomes my private retreat — a place to run away with an iced coffee and a good book and escape the hustle and bustle of the world for a while (perks to working a weird schedule: the neighbors rarely interrupt my me-time). I love it so much, I even wrote a post about it. But while most of my roof time is spent finishing my latest book club assignment or thinking up topics for blog posts, my dream is to one day throw that most New York of fêtes: a rooftop party.

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See my roof, while lovely, is jinxed. My roommates and I have tried to throw housewarming parties, and Derby parties, and birthday parties, and meetings of the aforementioned book club en plein air, and every single time we have been foiled by the cold and the rain. This past weekend was no exception. I awoke to sunny skies and an optimist spirit. Maybe this would finally be the day! I texted Scout and our fellow book clubbers: “The weather outside looks roof-friendly! So plan your outerwear accordingly.” But a mere two hours later, as we began to assemble, so too did the storm clouds. By the time we were all present, it was full-on raining, and we had to settle for my living room floor.

But still I dream of BBQ’s and coolers of beer, big-batch cocktails and music by twinkly light. And so I have assembled this guide to how to throw the best rooftop bash ever, which I fervently hope to test out this summer…if the rain ever lets up.

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The Basics

Make sure your guests have somewhere to sit. You can go the table and chairs route or stick to picnic blankets, but make sure that whatever seating you have is waterproof and/or portable. I am personally a big fan of Target’s picnic blanket selection; they come in a variety of adorable patterns (I’ve been lusting after these pineapples for weeks), and fold up into a conveniently portable package, complete with shoulder strap. If outdoor furniture is more your jam, IKEA or Amazon are your best bet.

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The Mood

Every party needs a good soundtrack, which means you will need to procure speakers of some kind. Take this moment to assess your roof’s outlet situation, as this will determine what kind of audio equipment you can use and how much pre-party charging of said devices you will need to factor into your timeline. Also important, lights! My roof is lacking in outlets of any kind, and while New York kindly provides enough light pollution to keep it from being pitch black, some electronic assistance is recommended. In the absence of plugs, I recommend battery-operated twinkly lights: festive and convenient!

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The Vittles

Maybe you’re among those lucky few New Yorkers to live in a building with an elevator, which will convey you, your guests, and a feast swiftly skyward. But if, like me, you must climb several flights of stairs in order to reach the promised patio, portable is the name of the game. Anything that requires plates or silverware means more for you to haul up, and back down at party’s end, to stick to finger food. Pigs in a blanket, good. Spaghetti or salad, bad. On my festive to-cook list: cauliflower feta fritters, lemon raspberry pie crust heartsdouble chocolate cake doughnuts.

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The Libations

Much like with the food, the key with rooftop booze is to minimize the amount of stuff you have to cart up and down. This means nothing that requires individual assembly (a good rule of thumb for parties in general). Big-batch cocktails are your friend here — think punches, sangrias, anything that can be poured in a drink dispenser. I recently made this blueberry mint lemonade from Joy the Baker and think it could only benefit from the addition of gin or vodka. Make sure you bring disposable cups, and a couple garbage bags for people’s empties (do not be the neighbor who throws a party and leaves trash all over the roof). And if you’re also going to have beer, bring a cooler or bucket and a couple bags of ice to keep it cold. Bonus: The cooler or bucket will have to be brought back down, but the ice can be dumped out to melt at party’s end!

Early Summer 2017 Playlist: Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

If we were back in Kentucky, summer would be upon us already.  School would be out, the weather would be warmer, and the pools would be opening. But alas, we are not in our beloved home state, and while we’re happy to escape the influx of pollen and dander that the season brings, there are hallmarks of a bluegrass summer that we miss. The end of school may still be a month away for New Yorkers (and we may be past the days of seasonal breaks anyway), but we are hankering for a thunderstorm. And not those namby-pampy sprinklings that the Northeast calls storms, but the bona fide, crickets humming, wrath of god thundering, earth shaking, scream-your-love-and-frustration-at-Ryan-Gosling, real Dixie deal.

This playlist is an ode to hard rain on hot days, to the crack of the skies opening up and the downpour washing the day clean. It’s a paean to petrichor, a waltz set to your beating footsteps as you dash across the wet pavement to find shelter on a porch. So savor these cool reprieves from an other wise sweltering season — even if they are only musical.

As always, you can listen here or on YouTube.

Zelda’s Favorites: 0% Political Reading from Around the Internet

Many moons ago (ok, not that many), we used to close out our months here on Z&S with a round-up of our favorite things. This included music and movies, things we were eating or drinking or listening to. And it included things we’d read — sometimes books, but mostly articles from around the internet that struck our fancy. I’d keep a running list all month whenever I stumbled across something particularly funny or moving or cool. It was our way of starting a conversation, and, personally, a good way to keep track of some of the best things the Internet had to offer during the past 30 days.

I do not regret our decision to do away with the round-ups; Scout and I are busy, busy ladies, and we’d rather focus our time and efforts on quality versus quantity of posts. But I miss the practice of noting when I read something that struck a chord and sharing it with y’all, our internet kin. And especially these days, when our democracy seems to be in tatters and kids are getting blown up at pop concerts and world leaders are trying out their best Saruman impressions, it’s important to be reminded that not everything is doom and gloom. This can be a particular challenge for me, since my job requires me to spend my days (or rather, nights) inundated by all things news, most of which is far from sunny. So in an effort to salvage my own humanity, and to hopefully bring a little apolitical relief to yours, here are ten of my favorite things I’ve read on the internet of late.

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Drag Queen Story Hour Puts the Rainbow in Reading by Una LaMarche (The New York Times)

Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card! And when it comes to building empathy and celebrating the beauty of difference, it’s always best to start ’em young.

“Children love dressing up and being imaginative in what they wear,” Ms. Aimee said. “They see drag queens as people who are doing the same thing, expressing themselves creatively and having fun with it. Also, kids have a much more fluid understanding of gender than most adults do.”

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Ginned Up: Canada Recalls Bottles Of Bombay Sapphire For Being Extra-Boozy by Camila Domonoske (NPR)

Nope, this is not the Onion. Apparently your gin and tonic really can be too strong.

A single “unsatisfied customer” tipped them off, returning a bottle because it did not “meet expectations,” Canada’s National Post reports.

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Horses Competing in This Year’s Kentucky Derby by Jonny Auping (The New Yorker)

We may be 347 days away from the next Derby, but this still tickles me.

Single-Payer Plan

Cultural Appropriation

A Tom Wolfe Book About the Subculture of Gentlemen’s Duels to Determine Once and for All the Proper Way to Mix a Mint Julep Titled “The Smoking Bourbon”

Ghostface Killah

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Hillbillies Who Code: The Former Miners Out to Put Kentucky on the Tech Map by Cassady Rosenblum (The Guardian)

Speaking of Kentucky, I love this stereotype-busting look at these former coal miners who are looking to turn their fortunes, and those of their fellow Appalachians, around by transforming an economically devastated region into “Silicon Holler.”

The guys at Bitsource also view being a hillbilly is something positive. “A hillbilly is someone who is hard-working, thoughtful, and loyal,” Couch says. “And rugged,” he adds. “Because we’ve seen some tough times.”…“In Pikeville we already moved the mountain,” Justice says. “Nothing really much scares us.”

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Think Baseball is Boring? Maybe a Cat Will Help by Daniel Victor (The New York Times)

Dear Scout, See baseball can be fun and exciting! Love, Zelda

“Look at this cat,” Rich Waltz, a Marlins announcer, beamed on the team’s broadcast. “Terrific stuff by the cat. Outstanding!”

The cat settled itself away from the dirty hands of humans on a gaudy sculpture that lights up, sprays water and does other gaudy things on the occasion of each Marlins home run. It lay down on a portion of the sculpture painted to look like water, but found no tuna or minnows.

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Why the 1980s Anne of Green Gables Is Such a Hard Act to Follow by Joanna Robinson (Vanity Fair)

As Kathleen Kelly tells us, when you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way no other reading in your whole life does. Anne Shirley, with her sass and her love of books and her absolutely voracious imagination, is an indelible part of mine.

I didn’t read Anne (with an “e” of course) of Green Gables. I devoured Anne of Green Gables. At the time, I didn’t understand why Anne’s commitment to her own intelligence, kindness, and disruptive “red hair” meant so much to me. Why watching Anne sit on a bench and stare toward her beloved best friend Diana Barry’s house, crying “henceforth we must be strangers living side by side,” made my heart soar. Now I realize that she was my first heroine.

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Stephen Sondheim and Meryl Streep Side by Side at the Pen Gala by D.T. Max (The New Yorker)

Why does this story exist? I do not know. But it’s a fanciful romp, and I’m delighted to be along for the ride. Also it wins the prize for favorite sentence I’ve read this month (see below).

Out of the gloaming, Streep appeared.

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That’s What She Said: #Professional by Anne T. Donahue (newsletter)

I do not know why I was not subscribed to Donahue’s newsletter until this month — she is consistently one of my favorite people on Twitter, and on the internet in general — but this brassy breakdown of how to be a lady boss who writes shit and gets it published is what hooked me. (Speaking of newsletters, are you subscribed to Bim’s? You should be subscribed to Bim’s.)

So first, let’s squash the myth that you need to know a writer to be a writer. I knew zero people who were writers when I started writing. I was in university, it was the summer, I’d had a fight with my Dad (which pushed me over the edge and made me decide to show him ONCE AND FOR ALL), and I worked at American Eagle. So, upset and frustrated with my life, I went to Craigslist and looked up writing jobs and CORRECT: that was a terrible mistake. But my point is, your career beginning does not need to look like somebody else’s career beginnings. There is no right or wrong way to begin writing as a professional person.

Except maybe by working for $2/piece via Craigslist. But I survived! So we did it, everyone. NEXT.

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Digging in the Trash by David Joy (Bitter Southerner)

Bitter Southerner is basically who Scout and I want to be when we grow up. Their content is consistently well-written, beautifully produced, and humming with empathy. They never met a stereotype they didn’t try to dispel, nary a bubble they didn’t burst with wit and insight and truth. This is no exception.

We drove there on birthdays and holidays. Past farm ponds colored chocolate milk. Past yellow fields of oat grass that waved and flickered in sunlight like heads of windblown hair. Gravel crunched under tires as we eased along a dirt road just a few minutes from where we lived to the trailer where my grandfather survived.

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My Family’s Slave by Alex Tizon (The Atlantic)

Last but not least, this is not a happy story, but it is an important one that will challenge your assumptions about family and love and our responsibility to our fellow human beings.

Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine—my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been.

 

Brooklyn, NY to Louisville, KY Summer 2017

We drove a lot when I was a kid. Road trips were fairly standard as the highway was often the most efficient mode of transportation for getting to the small town that my grandparents made their home in, or to the tiny island off the coast of South Carolina where we often vacationed. I know as a child I complained from my spot in the back seat, murmuring the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” But I’ve grown to enjoy immensely the feeling of the road beneath my wheels…or under someone else’s wheels that I’ve borrowed, as I no longer have any of my own — such is life in New York.

Summer is the perfect time for a road trip, especially if that road trip means leaving Brooklyn. Summer in the city brings hot sticky days and nights that are not much better, as the stench of hot garbage invades every space. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Trust me: Stick with your idyllic images of New York in the fall, because New York in the summer is anything but. So sometimes you just need to climb in a friend’s car and escape, and for Zelda and me, the perfect escape is back to our hometown of Louisville.

Road trips hardly ever play out the way we want them to. We’re too often hindered by time or money constraints to really give in to the romantic ideals of just following the road wherever it may take us. But sometimes we can almost get there. We can choose a rough approximate of a route, stop when we feel compelled, and let the journey be the destination. I’ve done this once before. For spring break during  my senior year of college, I foreswore the beach to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and explore the wonders of the Appalachians with friends, eventually dragging them back to my hometown. It was pretty much everything I wanted. I stood on the Eastern Continental Divide. I saw the sun set over the Blue Ridge Parkway. I even taught a friend to drive a stick.

I found in planning that road trip that the best course of action is to have a few points of interest picked out to guide your route, and then to let the journey do the rest. This summer, I’m taking friends-of-the-blog Jason and Sarah for a grand tour of the old homestead, and since they are among those rare unicorns known as “New Yorkers with cars,” we will be kicking it road trip style. Now I know we won’t have time for the leisurely journey of my dreams (#adultingproblems), but if we  did, this is what it would look like. This is my rough guide to get your road trip from North to South started, from my current home to my always home. Turn on our first-ever playlist, Highway Cruisin’, and join me on the adventure.

Brooklyn, New York to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

When you’re leaving New York, if you live in Brooklyn, I highly recommend you leave via Staten Island over the Verrazano Bridge. The tolls are a bitch, but it’s worth avoiding having to drive anywhere in Manhattan. Plus, the bridge itself is beautiful. If you’ve got at least three people, you can make use of that high-occupancy-vehicle lane and wave goodbye to the non-carpoolers as you speed by them (I especially revelled in this last fall when we left the city around rush hour, and traffic was at an almost standstill). As you cross into New Jersey via the Goethals Bridge (not as picturesque as the Verrazano, but it does the job), we can really get started.

New Jersey should come with an initial snack stop, preferably at Wawa. I learned of the wonder of Wawa from the many Mid-Atlantic dwellers at my college, who constantly sang its praises. It is, unequivocally, the best road trip food stop ever. Cue indie movie shopping montage: Grab a hot sandwich and a cold fountain drink; stock up on sour gummies, salty pretzels, and, if you’re lucky, some Old Bay Chips; and head back to the road, fully ready to appreciate the wonders that await.

Our first stop is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — once the center of the American Industrial Revolution and the home of Bethlehem Steel. Fun fact: The Verrazzano Bridge you crossed to leave Brooklyn was constructed from Bethlehem Steel, not to mention many other American landmarks (including but not limited to: the Chrysler Building, Alcatraz, and the Hoover Dam). Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in the early 21st century, and the steel plant has since been turned into a thriving arts and culture district called SteelStacks. The plant’s five tall blast furnaces, now defunct, stand as a backdrop to this new area, which is home to several arts venues as well as a casino. If you show up on a weekend, there’s bound to be something happening, plus it’s a short walk to any number of restaurants and bars in Bethlehem’s South Side. If you’re feeling done for the day, you can stay at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. It’s supposedly haunted.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

If you’re like me, your vacations mostly revolve around which museums you can go to and what historical sites you can see. The history nerd in me will never die, and our second guiding point on this fictional journey is an homage to that. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is best known as the site of the Civil War battle that bears its name. The battleground is now part of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and in these times when the NPS is leading our social media rebellion, I feel it’s right to pay a little visit to one of our nation’s hallowed spaces. Plus I’ve wanted to visit since I had to memorize Lincoln’s famous address in the fourth grade.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the deadliest of the whole Civil War in terms of casualties, and President Abraham Lincoln, in his address, originally dedicated the battlefield as the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, four months after the end of the battle. If you’re pressed for time, you can make a stop at the visitor center, get the official map, and take a self-guided tour of the important spots via car (or you can download the map here). If you have a little more time, the site has daily talks and hikes led by park rangers. We here at Zelda and Scout usually opt for the latter; the people who work at places like this usually have an unrestrained amount of passion for the place, and, if you’re lucky, a little bit of theatrical ability as well (Years ago, Zelda and I had a particularly good experience with a Beefeater named Alan at the Tower of London. 10/10 would recommend).

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Huntington, West Virginia

But maybe history’s not your thing, or you just don’t want to spend the day wandering an old battlefield. Just get back in the car and head southwest toward the great state of West Virginia. I have some mixed memories about road trips through West Virginia. The fastest way to get from Louisville to Baltimore (where I attended college) was to cut diagonally through the state, and for a long time it was the bane of my existence: a stretch of 100 or so miles where there was nary a gas station to stop at, or so it seemed. But when you’re not trying to get from point A to point B in the most expedient manner possible, West Virginia really lives up to its state slogan: Wild and Wonderful.

Our next official stop is the greater Huntington area, but it’s a long six hours from Gettysburg to there, so I urge you to give in to your spontaneous road trip heart and stop whenever the spirit moves you along the way. Maybe grab a bite to eat in Morgantown, or pause to enjoy nature at one of the many state parks, or make a pitstop in Weston at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum where you can take a paranormal tour — whatever floats your proverbial boat.

Huntington lies on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, just adjacent to the town of Ashland – close enough that they could be lumped together as one greater metropolitan area (in order to get over my years of ingrained anti-West-Virginia bias, I hang on to that little nugget). West Virginia tends to get a bad rap, but it really does have a lot to offer. Huntington is home to Marshall University, several historic districts, a number of cultural festivals throughout the year, and the internet’s own McElroy Brothers (who’ve done a number on your author’s preconceptions about West Virginia).

If you’re there in July, you might make the West Virginia Hot Dog festival, and in August there’s the Rails and Ales Beer festival. If there’s not a festival of some sort going on, Huntington has eleven public parks equipped with walking trails and footbridges to help you take in the suburban Appalachian scenery. If you’re more of a thrill seeker, you can check out Camden Park and ride the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1958 (I’m more of a log flume girl myself, and they’ve got one of those too!).

Before you head out, stop at Jolly Pirate Donuts to grab some good good snacks to go in their signature treasure chest.  

Huntington, West Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky

On this final stretch of the trip, the only stops you should make are at distilleries (okay maybe there are a few other stops that might be worthwhile — some scenic overlooks, a cave or two — but you’re reading this blog, so we assume you’re in it for the bourbon). Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace are just off your route, and I know from experience that both tours are well worth a stop. Buffalo Trace is an especially scenic distillery, and the guides there are as passionate about the history as they are about the bourbon. You will learn things, but you will also get to drink (though you do need to drive to your final destination, so drink responsibly).

Take the rest of the drive up I-64 to reach our final destination of Louisville. I’ll save my tips for all the things you can do there for another post — or several  — but in the meantime you can read about some of Zelda’s picks in the New York Times!)

Sometimes a break isn’t about where you go. Sometimes it’s just about taking a second to appreciate the scenery. Don’t just roll those windows down: Actually look at what you may be passing by. And if something strikes your fancy, go ahead and stop for a spell. You’ve got plenty of time.

Photos via: AJ Indam, CyberxrefWV funnymanKittugwiki

Blueberry-Lavender Champagne Punch

Hey y’all. So this week was supposed to bring you another installment of All the Fixin’s, the series where we cook our way through our respective Southern heritages. But as you’ll know if you follow this blog, or our social media, or the world in general, this past weekend included that most hallowed of horsey days — the Derby — and we celebrated in a matter befitting the occasion. We did indeed cook things (many of them, in fact), but they were Bluegrass classics that make up the staples of each of our Derby parties: pie (in miniature, bite-sized form), bourbon ball cupcakes, benedictine, artichoke dip. And in the tornado of activity that was preparing for, throwing, and cleaning up after our annual Brooklyn celebration, we did not, alas, have time to venture into something new from one of our respective cookbooks.

Not to fret, All the Fixin’s will be back next month. But today, in its stead, we’re bringing you the one new thing we did try for this year’s party: a cocktail. Now we all know the correct drink to imbibe on the first Saturday in May is, of course, a mint julep. But despite our better judgement, we are friends with some people who do not partake of the browner liquors. So we decided to indulge them with an alternative option. Call us soft if you will: We prefer to celebrate our tolerance and generosity. Also Zelda will seize any opportunity to try out a new big-batch cocktail (punch bowls for one on a Wednesday afternoon seeming more sad than celebratory, she has to wait for parties to pull out all the stops).

We wanted something light and festive, full of bubbles and springtime flavors. And after some thorough Googling, Zelda settled on this Southern Living classic-with-a-twist: blueberry-lavender champagne punch. Champagne punches are a party staple: easy to throw together, pleasing to a crowd, with all the pop and fizz you want in a celebratory glass. This one punches up the traditional simple syrup with fresh blueberries and dried lavender, infusing the drink with sweet floral notes and a lovely purple tint to boot. We can’t honestly say we partook much ourselves, aside from taste testing to make sure the proportions are right — we are julep gals, through and through — but our guests swore it was positively divine, and the empty bowl at evening’s end backed their claims up. Mint and lavender alike, we all raised a glass (or several) and sang one song for our old Kentucky home — far, far away.

Ingredients

1 cup mashed fresh blueberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon dried culinary lavender

3 bottles (750 mL) champagne (prosecco will also do the trick)

3 cups gin

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons’ worth)

Directions

To make the simple syrup, stir together the mashed blueberries, sugar, water, and lavender in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour through a mesh sieve and strain out the solid bits, then set aside to cool completely (at least 45 minutes, but we recommend making it the evening before your gathering and letting it sit in the fridge overnight).

In a punch bowl or pitcher, combine the champagne, gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. The proportions listed here are for a big batch, using all of the simple, but if you’re entertaining a smaller number of guests, use 1 cup gin, 1/3 cup simple syrup, and 1/4 cup lemon juice for every bottle of champagne.

Garnish with lemon slices, frozen blueberries, and/or lavender sprigs. Enjoy!

A Short History of the Mint Julep

The first week of May has us here at Zelda & Scout in intense party prep mode. This Saturday, we dust off our wide-brim hats and our fascinators, and pull out our many years’ worth of glassware, and make some probably-less-than-stellar decisions regarding both gambling and inebriation. Because the first Saturday in May brings the Kentucky Derby, which at Churchill Downs means the consumption of hundreds of thousands of mint juleps.

And sure there are people who will tell you that mint juleps are gross, and taste like soap, and are only good on Derby. But we are staunch defenders of the julep tradition and its importance as a truly Kentuckian drink, no matter what some articles in the course of this research might like to suggest. Most agree that while the julep probably wasn’t invented in Kentucky, (though the lore does state we can lay claim to another classic bourbon cocktail — the old fashioned — so our whiskey bona fides still check out), since its inception, the great Commonwealth has become its one true home.

The mint julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, but the julep has a long and storied history before that. In the 18th century, “julep” was a general term that applied to a number of sugar-based cocktails popular during the Revolutionary War period. Often these sugary elixirs were used as means of masking the taste when ingesting medicine…or you know just alcohol, which was also medicine. It could be made with a number of spirits: rum, gin, brandy etc. But bourbon whiskey is what stuck.

The word “julep” itself is originally derived from the Spanish julepe, which in turn comes from the Persian root gulab meaning rosewater. Thus julep was applied to any drinks in which sweetness was the dominant note. The addition of mint to what we now recognize as our mint julep may have originally been intended to soothe stomach pains, but there is no definitive proof.

The julep slowly changed from a medicinal mixture into one of leisure. As its popularity increased, it became a status symbol, largely because of the ice. Ice was, rather ironically, a hot commodity at the time: Only those with a certain amount of wealth had access to ice houses, much less the ability to crush the ice as fine as we know it today. By the time people began serving their juleps in silver cups, it was officially the drink of the elite.

So you see the julep is an old drink, and a simple one: just sugar, bourbon whiskey and mint (you can find Zelda’s tried and true recipe here, along with laments of New York juleps gone wrong). And while it may not have been born in the Bluegrass state, it did come into its own in Kentucky, as a way to imbibe in the local libation of choice: bourbon. Eventually it was introduced to our nation’s capital, legend has it, by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and once the politicians got a hold of it, we were off to the races. And though some may associate it with lazy Southern afternoons, sweating daintily on verandas, we Kentuckians know better.

The julep is a city drink, one that gained fame at the bars of the ritziest hotels in the South’s grandest cities, and as such, it is a drink of action. It’s the drink you hold aloft with one hand as your horse crosses the finish line to win your big bet of the day. It’s the drink you probably spill a little of in your haste to hold onto your hat as you run across a muddy infield. It’s the perfect drink for a hot and humid Saturday in May, whether you’re in the grandstand, the infield, or even on a roof somewhere in Brooklyn.

The julep helps us lean into the decadence, with our fancy cups and our perfect sprigs of mint garnish. It helps us embrace the depravity as we make some questionable decisions after our third, or fourth, or fifth julep of the evening (wait, what do you mean it’s only 4:30?). There will always be those who claim it’s too sweet, or that it tastes like medicine. There will be those who can only stomach it, begrudgingly, on Derby Day. But for Zelda & Scout, whether it’s the traditional Early Times or the updated Old Forester, on every day of the year, the mint julep tastes like home.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5